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Welcome to the Circus

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Cloud wakes up with a start.

Normally, this is not a cause for alarm. However, given that his joints don’t ache anymore, and his back doesn’t crack ominously as he sits up, he knows the event he has been dreading all these years has finally come to pass. After all, Zack and Aerith have both already passed on. It isn’t too far of a jump for Sephiroth… for Sephiroth to…

He stares down at his hands, skin smooth and taught once more, not a liver spot to be seen. Strong and calloused, meant for wielding a sword.

Beside him, he knows the body is still and cold, eyes closed as if still in sleep. He can’t bring himself to look. Instead, he calls, “Denzel!”

“Coming!” A minute later, the door opens gently and Denzel scolds, “What are you yelling so loudly for? You know Seph’s been having a hard time falling asleep lately, if you wake him up—”

“Denzel,” Cloud says again, staring up at him helplessly.

With one look at Cloud’s too-young face, Denzel’s face falls in realization. “Oh. Oh, Cloud…”

Cloud sighs. “It wasn’t like we weren’t expecting it, at this age… but…”

“I know,” Denzel says, placing a hand on his shoulder sympathetically. “What are you planning on doing now?”

Cloud shuts his eyes, taking another moment to mourn, then opens them and straightens his shoulders. “Well. Cloud Crescent-Strife couldn’t take his partner’s passing, so he left a note for his adopted son and retreated to somewhere isolated in the mountains to await his own death. No one knows where he is. Sephiroth’s funeral will be a small, quiet affair. Family and close friends only. Maybe my grand-nephew will show up. No one knows I have one, of course, but the family resemblance will be so strong the relation will be obvious. As for everything else… you have our will.”

Denzel nods and says gently, “I’ll take care of the body and funeral preparations, okay? You go take care of anything else you need to.”

Cloud takes a deep, shuddering breath. “Thanks, Denzel.” He pushes the covers back and steps out of bed, both revelling in and hating the new strength in his legs. He grabs his cell phone from the nightstand, then opens the closet, digging through to the very back, where he’s kept a stash of clothing just for this occasion. He changes quickly into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. When his hand brushes against a faded black sweatshirt as he rummages through the closet, the lettering on the front long illegible, he hesitates, then pulls that on too.

The back of the closet is wood paneling. With a careful press, a panel swings open, and he pulls out Tsurugi from the hidden compartment. It’s still untarnished after all these years. Beside it is a harness, carefully recreated from its original design. After strapping his sword to his back in swift, practiced motions, Cloud steps outside to make one last phone call.

"Vincent Valentine speaking."

"Vincent… it's time."

" … We'll be there as soon as possible."

-

And why should we grant you this request, Son of Calamity?

"JENOVA may no longer be here, but I am perfectly capable of clawing my way out of the depths of hell with or without her aid. Cloud is mine. And there is nothing in this world or otherwise that will keep him from me."

An agitated hiss. We will not condone this sort of behavior.

"I care not for what you do or do not condone. This is what will happen: you grant my request, and I will never threaten the Planet again, or you reject this offer, and I will complete my objective on my own, with no regard for the safety of the Planet and the life on it. Your lack of cooperation, to me, is a mere inconvenience. Well?”

More agitation. Finally, relention. Very well. The Champion will not be pleased.

Sephiroth smirks in satisfaction. “On the contrary, I think Cloud will be very pleased.”

-

Sephiroth’s funeral is, as Cloud had requested, a quiet affair.

He sits beside Genesis and Vincent, not in the front where he should be, but near the back right corner, face ducked low, both to conceal his features and hide his expression. He refuses to cry, not here and now, but his face is still too pale and too stricken to for him to simply be a distant relative.

He doesn’t look up throughout the entire service, not even when someone slides into the seat beside him.

When all the speeches are over, Vincent has already long vanished. Genesis pats Cloud’s arm gently and drifts off to speak with Tifa, leaving Cloud to sit in silence. Eventually, the person next to him says, “It was a very nice service. Those yellow flowers on the coffin… do those have any particular significance?”

Cloud glances up briefly, just enough to catch a glimpse of a wide-brimmed black hat with a veil. Oddly dramatic, but people show their grief in different ways, he supposes. “They’re yellow loosestrifes. They were his favorite flower.”

“I see. The name and appearance remind him of his husband,” the stranger deduces. “Why did he not give a speech?”

“You mean his husband?” Cloud worries his bottom lip. “He… left.”

“He did not even wait to attend his own deceased partner’s funeral?” The stranger sounds mildly taken aback.

“ … No.” Cloud shakes his head. He can’t take this, talking about himself and Sephiroth as if they were merely gossiping. “I’m sorry, I don’t really… want to talk about this right now—”

“Cloud.”

Cloud jerks, looking up. That tone of voice—

The man pulls back his veil slightly, revealing the gleam of a mako-bright eye and a fraction of an achingly familiar face. “You’re a terribly awful liar, Cloud.”

Cloud’s eyes widen in disbelief. “Se… Sephiroth?” he whispers.

Sephiroth smirks. “Did you really think something as inconsequential as death would keep me away from you, Cloud?”

Cloud chokes on something between a dry sob and a laugh. “Only you would call death inconsequential.”

“I rather think you’d be able to claim something similar, too,” Sephiroth says, but clutches Cloud tightly back when he throws himself into his arms, knocking Sephiroth’s absurd hat straight off his head.

-

“Genesis.”

Tifa looks up from her conversation with Genesis, already expecting Cloud’s rather jarring youthful appearance, but not the tiny, content smile on his face, and most definitely not the very familiar person standing next to him. Beside her, Genesis balks.

Cloud tilts his head in amusement. “We’ll be waiting for you outside.”

Beside him, Sephiroth smirks and nods, and together they turn and walk out, hand in hand.

As Tifa watches the two of them leave, both clad in black like so long ago, the sunlight catches in their hair and burnishes it brilliant silver and gold, a snapshot of eternity.

 

 

fin.